I’m out a little later today at 6:25. I find no overnight snow and instead enjoy a bright moon at 22 degrees.
Beautiful first light begins as I head up the S Curves. This is my last day for a while and there is no wolf Crew to help find wolves. My first stop is at Hellroaring where the temp is a very cold 10 degrees.
Bill and I are the only people here. Visibility is excellent but we find nothing but bison.
I drive on to Elk Creek where I meet Rick. He has nothing either, so we continue to Rick’s pullout to check the areas where we had Junction yesterday.
We hear a staticky radio call from Doug M whom Rick says is in Lamar. We hear “wolves across the river from YES”
We set off to the east. But then Rick stops at Boulder to talk with a long-time guide he knows (Quinn). He is scoping with two clients to the north and it looks like they are seeing something.
Yes! He has the Junction pack, across the river, fairly low, in a rocky area. Looks like they have yet another carcass.
We climb Boulder hill and watch a while. Between the rocks and the sage and the patches of snow, it’s a fairly difficult spot – the wolves completely blend in unless they are moving.
Luckily for us, many of them are moving. I count 14.
They begin to howl. I see 907F in the middle of a rally in all her pregnant glory. She happily greets several other wolves as the rally continues. After this, they continue to mill around. Some bed down, others move to the edge of the corridor and disappear downhill towards the river, where the likely carcass is.
Rick and I show a lot of people these wolves and nearly forget about Doug’s earlier call. But he calls again. It’s still staticky but this time hear Doug say “still trying to get that elk”.
I look at Rick and we agree, it’s time to head east to check it out.
We drive east and eventually I find Doug, Don and several guides at YES, but the lot is full. Doug points to the south and I see the wolves right away, at tree-line.
I drive over Hubbard Hill to Mid-point where there is still room. By the time I get parked and set up, the elk is dead. Apparently the bull was cornered in this spot by three wolves, two blacks and a gray. Although we thought they might be Mollies, it turns out they were Junctions, too.
I see a collared black wolf feeding on a mostly intact elk carcass right at the tree line. A second black wolf is bedded in snow about 200 yards to the east, flat out on its side. I’m told there was a third wolf, a gray, that went into the tree line and is currently out of sight.
Don joins me and tells me the story. Doug found three wolves that had an elk surrounded. He said the elk put up a major fight, requiring a long, strenuous effort by the wolves. Doug had been watching for well over an hour before the elk died and the struggle was already going on when he first found them. Don says none of the wolves seemed able to get a killing hold on the elk’s throat so the poor thing ended up dying from blood loss.
Many people found it too gruesome to watch so they left. Honestly, I feel relieved to have missed it.
I stay over and hour, watching the collared black feed. Two coyotes appear just beyond the tree line to the right, eager for a turn at this free meal. They both bed in the snow, impatiently waiting.
The collared black takes a break from feeding and curls up right next to the dead elk. It becomes hard to tell where the wolf ends and the elk begins.
One of the coyotes ventures over for a closer look. I am worried for him in case the unseen gray wolf might notice his presence. But that doesn’t happen. The coyote passes the bedded black and continues east.
the coyote does a double take when he notices the flat-out bedded black wolf. You can almost hear his heart pounding! Then the coyote wisely chooses to retrace his steps and rejoin his companion. They seem convinced, now, to wait it out.
A bald eagle flies overhead, then suddenly swoops into the river. He comes up with a wriggling fish! Wow! The eagle settles on the bank and proceeds to devour its prize.
The bedded black lifts its head, rolls over and rubs its back against the snow before flopping back down for more shut eye.
The day remains cold. It’s almost 10:30 and only 16 degrees.
It’s time for me to get back to Bozeman. So I bid Don goodbye and head west. At Long Pullout I see Rick and Amanda. They are getting ready to snowshoe out to the Peregine Hills to see if that offers a clearer view of the Junctions. Apparently, they are still in view from Boulder.
They ask me to join them, but I politely decline and wish them well.
I go on to Boulder and climb that easy hill. I see 7 Junctions; three grays and four blacks. I help various visitors and then head back down to set off for Bozeman.
As I approach the cattle guard crossing on Rt 89, I see the same group of bighorn that I saw on my way in. This time they are north of the road instead of on it.
I also see a herd of mule deer south of Emigrant.
Today I saw: bison, coyotes, a bald eagle, elk, bighorn sheep, 17 wolves in two locations (all Junctions,
as it turned out, including 907F and at least 1 collared black) and the spirits of Allison and Richard.